Are Some People Born Vegetarians?

When you're scanning a dating app for a potential date, the very first thing you're looking for in a suitor probably has nothing to do with the level of their meat consumption, even if you're busily spending October 1 celebrating World Vegetarian Day yourself. You probably care more about their lifestyle choices and career path, and you wonder what their thoughts are on marriage and kids. However, you might want to consider asking sooner rather than later about their dietary restrictions, particularly if you're a vegetarian — because recent studies show that people actually care about what kind of food goes on their partner's plate at the end of the day.

The dating site Elite Singles conducted a survey of 11,000 single folks in North America, Europe, and Australia. They found that 92 percent of vegetarians prefer to date another vegetarian and 90 percent of carnivores would like to find a SO who's a meat eater as well. In fact, 72 percent of meat lovers said they would break up with their veggo partner if they ever tried to convert them — sounds like they really didn't want to face an ultimatum in which they were forced to choose between a romantic relationship and steak.

The surveyed individuals probably think of vegetarianism as a choice someone makes, like what line of work they've chosen or how many tattoos they decided to get, so they think that when they pick a partner by their diet, they're looking for something who has similar taste as them. But what if we've been thinking about it all wrong? What if vegetarianism was nothing but a product of our genes, much like eye color or sexuality? It sounds like a radical (or downright ridiculous) idea right off the bat, but there is sound research to back up this claim, making us wonder if maybe vegetarians and meat eaters just aren't biologically meant to be together at all.

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Researchers at Cornell University studied hundreds of generations of people all over the world and found that there is a genetic variation that's been passed down for thousands of years, which could very well determine what kind of diet we choose to partake in today. Apparently, many populations based in Africa, India, and parts of East Asia have been eating vegetarian, plant-based diets for a very long time, which resulted in a genetic mutation — or, allele — that likely produces modern-day vegetarians.

Authors of this study surveyed hundreds of people living today who are vegetarians, and the discoveries were surprising. Out of the 234 vegetarian Indians whose genes were analyzed, the Cornell scientists found that 68 percent of them had the vegetarian allele. 18 percent of the 311 Americans that were studied had it as well. The researchers then tapped into a database of global DNA from the 1,000 Genomes Project, which ultimately showed that 70 percent of South Asians carry the vegetarian allele, along with 53 percent of Africans, 29 percent of East Asians, and 17 percent of Europeans.

The vegetarian allele these people possess allows them to "more efficiently process omega-3 and omega-6 acids and convert them into compounds essential for early brain development and controlling inflammation," according to the Cornell researchers. That's because the vegetarian allele has the ability to control the FADS1 and FADS2 enzymes in the body, whose job is to take the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids you consume and make them useful for your body.

Omega-3 fatty acids have strong anti-inflammatory properties and are known to significantly improve your brain function. Fish is one of the most common places you'll find them naturally, but omega-3 acids also exist in nuts and seeds, olive oil, whole grains, and many dairy products. The omega-6 variety of fatty acids, on the other hand, promote skin and hair growth, stimulate the metabolism, and strengthen your bones. Beef and poultry are the first places people will tell you to get your omega-6 from, but you'll also have luck finding it in eggs, cereals, and many different kinds of oils. However, when consumed in excess, it can actually cause inflammation and increase your risk for Alzheimer's disease and cancer.

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We used to think that everyone needed the same ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in their diet in order to be healthy and happy. But recent research suggests that this ratio varies from person to person, depending on their gene pool. In other words, if someone has the vegetarian allele, their bodies are naturally adjusted to a certain amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, so if they're eating a lot of red meat, they might experience more inflammation than usual. The discomfort and health issues that may arise from that imbalance would likely cause them to give up meat and instead stick to a vegetarian diet.

All that is to say, you might be genetically wired to live life as a vegetarian. Scientists see all this data as proof that insight into our genetic makeup could actually be the most accurate way to determine how and what we should eat. "One implication from our study is that we can use this genomic information to try to tailor our diet so it is matched to our genome, which is called personalized nutrition," Kaixiong Ye, co-lead author of the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. We no longer live in a one-size-fits-all world when it comes to health and diet.

Strangely enough, that means all those people in the Elite Singles survey who claim they're looking for a partner who has the same diet as them may actually be on the hunt for a specific gene pool of folks. Too bad there isn't a feature on dating apps that allows you to reveal whether you have the vegetarian allele or not (kind of like how you can select what color your eyes are) — dating's already hard enough, so it would make it at least a little easier.

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